Nine Princess In Amber
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Next page
So we did.
We passed among trees, we moved past the dark shapes of rocks and bushes. And the moon slowly rose, big, of silver, and lighting up the night.
"I am taken by this feeling that we cannot do it," Random told me.
"And what reliance can we give this feeling?" I asked.
"Too far and too fast," he responded. "I don't like it at all. Now we're in the real world, it is too late to turn back. We cannot play with Shadows, but must rely on our
blades." (He wore a short, burnished one himself.) "I feel, therefore. that it is perhaps Eric's will that we have advanced to this point. There is nothing much to do about it now, but now we're here, I wish we'd had to battle for every inch of the way.
We continued for another mile and paused for cigarettes, which we held cupped in our hands.
"It's a lovely night," I said, to Random and the cooI breeze. "I suppose.... What was that?"
There was a soft rustling of shrubbery a bit of a way behind us.
"Some animal, maybe."
His blade was in his band.
We waited, several minutes, but nothing more was heard.
So he sheathed it and we started walking again.
There were no more sounds from behind us, but after a time I heard something from up ahead.
He nodded when I glanced at him, and we began to move more cautiously.
There was a soft glow, as from a campfire, away, far, in the distance.
We heard no more sounds, but his shrug showed acquiescence to my gesture as I headed toward it, into the
woods, to the right.
It was the better part of an hour before we struck the camp. There were four men seated about the fire and two sleeping off in the shadows. The girl who was bound to a stake had her head turned away from us, but I felt my heart quicken as I looked upon her form.
"Could that be ...?" I whispered.
"Yes." he replied. "I think it may."
Then she turned her head and I knew it was.
"I wonder what the bitch has been up to?" Random said. "From those guys' colors, I'd venture they're taking
her back to Amber."
I saw that they wore black, red, and silver, which I remembered from the Trumps and from somewhere else to be the colors of Eric.
"Since Eric wants her, he can't have her," I said.
"I never much cared for Deirdre," Random said, "but I know you do, so.." and he unsheathed his blade.
I did the same. "Get ready," I told him, rising into a crouch. And we rushed them. Maybe two minutes, that's about what it took,
She was watching us by then, the firelight making her face into a twisted mask. She cried and laughed and said
our names, in a loud and frightned voice, and I slashed her bonds and helped her to her feet.
"Greetings, sister. Will you join us on the Road to Amber?"
"No," she said. "Thanks for my life, but I want to keep it. Why do you walk to Amber, as if I didn't know."
"There is a throne to be won," said Random, which was news to me. "and we are interested parties."
"If you're smart, you'll stay away and live longer," she said. and God! she was lovely, though a bit tried-looking
I took her into my arms because I wanted to, and squeezed her. Random found a skin of wine and we all had a drink.
"Eric is the only Prince in Amber," she said, "and the troops are loyal to him."
"I'm not afraid of Eric," I replied, and I knew I wasn't certain about that statement.
"He'll never let you into Amber," she said. "I was a prisoner myself, till I made it out one of the secret ways
two days ago. I thought I could walk in
Shadows till all things were done, but it is not easy to begin this close to the real place. So his troops found me this morning. They were taking me back. I think he might have killed me, had I been returned-though I'm not sure. At any rate, I'd have remained a puppet in the city. I think Eric may be mad, but again, I'm not sure."
"What of Bleys?" Random inquired.
"He sends things out of the Shadows, and Eric is greatly disturbed. But he has never attacked with his real force, and so Eric is troubled, and the disposition of the Crown and Scepter remains uncertain, though Eric holds the one
in his right hand."
"I see. Has he ever spoken of us?"
"Not of you, Random. But of Corwin, yes. He still fears the return of Corwin to Amber. There is relative safety for perhaps five more miles-but beyond that, every step of the way is studded with peril. Every tree and rock is a booby trap and an ambush. Because of Bleys and because of Corwin. He wanted you to get at least this far, so that you could not work with Shadows nor easily escape his power. It is absolutely impossible for either of you to enter into Amber without falling into one of his traps."
"Yet you escaped...."
"That was different. I was trying to get out, not in. Perhaps he did not guard me so carefully as he would one of you, because of my sex and my lack of ambition. And nevertheless, as you can see, I did not succeed."
"You have now, sister," I said, "so long as my blade is free to swing on your behalf," and she kissed my brow and squeezed my hand. I was always a sucker for that.
"I'm sure we're being followed," said Random, and with a gesture the three of us faded into the darkness.
We lay still beneath a bush, keeping watch on our trail.
After a time, our whispers indicated that there was a decision for me to make. The question was really quite simple: What next?
The question was too basic, and I couldn't stall any more. I knew I couldn't trust them, even dear Deirdre, but if I had to level with anybody, Random was at least in this thing with me, up to his neck, and Detrdre was my favorite.
"Beloved relatives," I told them, "I've a confession to make," and Random's hand was already on the hilt of his
blade. That's how far we could trust one another. I could already hear his mind clicking: Corwin brought me here to betray me, he was saying to himself.
"If you brought me here to betray me," be said, "you won't take me back alive."
"Are you kidding?" I asked. "I want your help, not your head. What I have to say is just this: I don't know what the hell's going on. I've made some guesses, but I don't really know where the devil we are, what Amber is, or why we're crouched here in the bushes hiding from his troops," I told him, "or for that matter, who I am, really."
There was an awfully long silence, and then Random whispered, "What do you mean?"
"Yes," said Deirdre.
"I mean," I said, "that I managed to fool you, Random. Didn't you think it strange that all I did on this trip was drive the car?"
"You were the boss," he told me, "and I figured you were planning. You did some pretty shrewd things along
the way. I know that you're Corwin."
"Which is a thing I only found out a couple of days ago, myself," I said. "I know that I am the one you call Corwin, but I was in an accident a while back. I had head injuries-I'll show you the scars when we've got more light-and I am suffering from amnesia. I don't dig all this talk about Shadows. I don't even remember much about Amber. All I remember is my relatives, and the fact that I can't trust them much. That's my story. What's to be done about it?"
"Christ!" said Random. "Yes, I can see it now! I under-
~and all the little things that puzzled me along the way.
How did you take Flora in so completely?"
"Luck," I said, "and subconscious sneakiness, I guess. No! That's not it! She was stupid. Now I really need you,
"Do you think we can make it into the Shadows," said Deirdre, and she was not speaking to me.
"Yes," said Random, "but I'm not for it. I'd like to see Corwin in Amber, and I'd like to see Eric's head on a pole. I'm willing to take a few chances to see these things, so I'm not turning back to the Shadows. You can if you want. You all think I'm a weakling and a bluff. Now
you're going to find out. I'm going to see this through."
"Thanks, brother," I said.
"Ill met by moonlighht." said Deirdre.
"You could still be tied to a stake," said Random, and she did not reply.
We lay there a while longer and three men entered the campsite and looked about. Then two of them bent down and sniffed at the ground.
Then they looked in our direction.
"Weir," whispered Random, as they moved in our direction.
I saw it happen, though only in shadow. They dropped to all fours and the moonlight played tricks with their
gray garments. Then there were the six blazing eyes of our stalkers.
I impaled the first wolf on my silver blade and there was a human howl. Random beheaded one with a single
blow, and to my amazement, I saw Deirdre raise one in the air and break its back across her knee with a brittle,
"Quick, your blade," said Random, and I ran his victim through, and hers, and there were more cries.
"We'd better move fast," said Random. "This way!" and we followed.
"Where are we going?" asked Deirdre, after perhaps an hour of furtive movement through the undergrowth.
"To the sea," he replied.
"It holds Corwin's memory."
"Rebma, of course."
"They'd kill you there and feed your brains to the fishes."
"I'm not going the full distance. You'll have to take over at the shore and talk with your sister's sister."
"You mean for him to take the Pattern again?"
"I know. Listen. Corwin," he said, "you've been decent enough with me recently. If by some chance you're not really Corwin, you're dead. You've got to be, though. You can't be someone else. Not from the way you've operated, without memory even. No, I'll bet your life on it. Take a chance and try the thing called the Pattern. Odds are, it'll restore your memory. Are you game?"
"Probably," I said, "but what is the Pattern?"
"Rebma is the ghost city." be told me. "It is the ref!ection of Amber within the sea. In it, everything in Amber is duplicated, as in a mirror. Llewella's people live there, and dwell as though in Amber. They hate me for a few past peccadilloes, so I cannot venture there with you, but if you would speak them
fair and perhaps hint at your mission, I feel they would let you walk the Pattern of Rebma, which, while it is the reverse of that in Amber, should have the same effect. That is, it gives to a son of our father the power to walk among Shadows."
"How will this power help me?"
"It should make you to know what you are."
"Then I'm game." I said.
"Good man. In that case, we'll keep heading south. It will take several days to reach the stairway ... You will go with him, Deirdre?"
"I will go with my brother Corwin."
I knew she would say that, and I was glad. I was afraid, but I was glad.
We walked all that night. We avoided three parties of armed troops, and in the morning we slept in a cave.
We spent two evenings making our way to the pink and sable sands of the great sea. It was on the morning of the third day that we arrived at the beach, having successfully avoided a small party the sundown before. We were loath to step out into the open until we had located the precise spot, Faiella-bionin, the Stairway to Rebma, and could cross quickly to it.
The rising sun cast billions of bright shards into the foaming swell of the waters, and our eyes were dazzled by their dance so that we could not see beneath the surface. We had lived on fruit and water for two days and I was ravenously hungry, but I forgot this as I regarded the wide, sloping tiger beach with its sudden twists and rises of coral, orange, pink, and red, and its abrupt caches of shells, driftwood, and small polished stones; and the sea beyond: rising and falling, splashing softly, all gold and blue and royal purple, and casting forth its lifesong breezes like benedictions beneath dawn's violet skies.
The mountain that faces the dawn, Kolvir, which has held Amber like a mother her child for all of time, stood perhaps twenty miles to our left, the north, and the sun covered her with gold and made rainbow the veil above the city. Random looked upon it and gnashed his teeth, then looked away. Maybe I did, too.
Deirdre touched my hand, gestured
with her head, and began to walk toward the north, parallel to the shore. Random and I followed. She had apparently spotted some landmark.
We'd advanced perhaps a quarter of a mile, when it seemed that the earth shook lightly.
"Hoofbeats!" hissed Random.
"Look!" said Deirdre, and her head was tilted back and she was pointing upward.
My eyes followed the gesture.
Overhead a hawk circled.
"How much farther is it?" I asked.
"That cairn of stones," she said, and I saw it perhaps a hundred yards away, about eight feet in height, builded of head-sized, gray stones, worn by the wind, the sand, the water, standing in the shape of a truncated pyramid.
The hoofbeats came louder, and then there were the notes of a horn, not Julian's call, though.
"Run!" said Random, and we did.
After perhaps twenty-five paces, the hawk descended. It swooped at Random, but he had his blade out and took a cut at it. Then it turned its attention to Deirdre.
I snatched my own blade from its sheath and tried a cut. Feathers flew. It rose and dropped again, and this time my blade bit something hard-and I think it fell. but I couldn't tell for sure, because I wasn't about to stop and look back. The sound of boofbeats was quite steady now, and loud, and the horn notes were near at hand.
We reached the cairn and Deirdre turned at right angles to it and headed straight toward the sea.
I was not about to argue with someone who seemed to know what she was doing. I followed, and from the corner of my eye I saw the horsemen.
They were still off in the distance, but they were thundering along the beach, dogs barking and horns blowing, and Random and I ran like hell and waded out into the surf after our sister.
We were up to our waists when Random said, "It's death if I stay and death if I go on.
"One is imminent." I said, "and the other may be open to negotiation. Let's move!"
We did. We were on some sort of rocky surface which descended into the sea. I didn't know how we would breathe while we walked it, but Deirdre didn't seem worried about it, so I tried not to be.
But I was.
When the water swirled and swished about our heads, I was very worried. Deirdre walked straight ahead, though,
descending, and I followed, and Random followed. Each few feet there was a drop. We were descending an enormous staircase, and it was named Faiella-bionin, I knew.
One more step would bring the water above my head, but Deirdre had already dropped below the water line.
So I drew a deep breath and took the plunge.
There were more steps and I kept following them. I wondered why my body was not naturally buoyed above them, for I continued to remain erect and each step bore me downward as though on a natural staircase, though my movements were somewhat slowed. I began wondering what I'd do when I could hold my breath no longer.
There were bubbles about Random's head, and Deirdre's. I tried to observe what they were doing, but I couldn't figure it. Their breasts seemed to be rising and falling in a normal manner.
When we were about ten feet beneath the surface, Random glanced at me from where he moved at my left side, and I heard his voice. It was as though I had my ear pressed against the bottom of a bathtub and each of his words came as the sound of someone kicking upon the side.
They were clear, though:
"I don't think they'll persuade the dogs to follow, even if the horses do," he said.
"How are you managing to breathe?" I tried saying, and I heard my own words distantly.
"Relax," he said quickly. "If you're holding your breath, let it out and don't worry. You'll be able to breathe so long as you don't venture off the stairway."
"How can that be?" I asked.
"If we make it, you'll know," he said. and his voice had a ringing quality to it, through the cold and passing green.
We were about twenty feet beneath the surface by then, and I exhaled a small amount of air and tried inhaling for perhaps a second.
There was nothing disturbing about the sensation, so I protracted it. There were more bubbles, but beyond that I felt nothing uncomfortable in the transition.
There was no sense of increasing pressure during the next ten feet or so, and I could see the staircase on which we moved as though through a greenish fog. Down, down, down it led. Straight. Direct. And there was some kind of light coming from below us.
"If we can make it through the archway, we'll be safe," said my sister.
"You'll be safe," Random corrected, and I wondered what he had done to be despised in the place called Rebma.
"If they ride horses which have never made the journey before, then they'll have to follow on foot," said Random. "In that case, we'll make it."
"So they might not follow-if that is the case," said Deirdre.
By the time we were perhaps fifty feet below the surface, the waters grew quite dark and chill. But the glow before us and below us increased, and after another ten steps, I could make out the source:
There was a pillar rising to the right. At its top was something globe-like and glowing. Perhaps fifteen steps lower, another such formation occurred to the left. Beyond that, it seemed there was another one on the right, and so on.
When we entered the vicinity of the thing, the waters grew warmer and the stairway itself became clear: it was white, shot through with pink and green, and resembled marble but was not slippery despite the water. It was perhaps fifty feet in width, and there was a wide banister of the same substance on either side.
Fishes swam past us as we walked it. When I looked back over my shoulder, there seemed to be no sign of pursuit.
It became brighter. We entered the vicinity of the first light, and it wasn't a globe on the top of a pillar. My mind must have added that touch to the phenomenon, to try to rationalize it at
least a bit. It appeared to be a flame, about two feet in height, dancing there, as atop a huge torch. I decided to ask about it later, and saved my-if you'll excuse the expression-breath, for the rapid descent we were making.
After we had entered the alley of light and had passed six more of the torches, Random said, "They're after us," and I looked back again and saw distant figures descending, four of them on horseback.
It is a strange feeling to laugh under water and hear yourself.
"Let them," I said, and I touched the hilt of my blade, "for now we have made it this far, I feel a power upon me!"
We hurried though, and off to our left and to our right the water grew black as ink. Only the stairway was illuminated, in our mad flight down it, and distantly I saw what appeared to be a mighty arch.
Deirdre was leaping down the stairs two at a time, and there came a vibration now, from the staccato beat of the horses' hooves behind us.
The band of armed men-filling the way from banister to banister-was far behind and above. But the four horsemen had gained on us. We followed Deirdre as she rushed downward, and my hand stayed upon my blade.
Three, four, five. We passed that many lights before I looked back again and saw that the horsemen were perhaps fifty feet above us. The footmen were now almost out of sight. The archway loomed ahead, perhaps two hundred feet distant. Big, shining like alabaster, and carved with Tritons, sea nymphs, mermaids, and dolphins, it was. And there seemed to be people on the other side of it.
"They must wonder why we have come there," said Random.
"It will be an academic point if we don't make it," I replied, hurrying, as
another glance revealed that the horsemen had gained ten feet on us.
I drew my blade then, and It flashed in the torchlight. Random followed suit.
After another twenty steps or so, the vibrations were terrible within the green and we turned, so as not to be cut down as we ran.
They were almost upon us. The gates lay a hundred feet to our back, and it might have been a hundred miles, unless we could take the four horsemen.
I crouched, as the man who was headed toward me swung his blade. There was another rider to his right and slightly to his rear, so naturally I moved to his left, near to the rail. This required that he strike cross-body, as he held his blade in his right hand.
When he struck, I parried in quarte and riposted.
He was leaning far forward in the saddle, and the point of my blade entered his neck on the right side.
A great billow of blood, like crimson smoke, arose and swirled within the greenish light. Crazily, I wished Van Gogh were there to see it.
The horse continued past, and I leaped at the second rider from the rear.
He turned to parry the stroke, succeeded. But the force of his speed through the water and the strength of my blow removed him from the saddle. As he fell, I kicked, and he drifted. I struck at him, hovering there above me, and he parried again, but this carried him beyond the rail. I heard him scream as the pressure of the waters came upon him. Then he was silent.
I turned my attention then to Random, who had slain both a horse and a man and was dueling with a second man on foot. By the time I reached them, he had slain the man and was laughing. The blood billowed above them, and I suddenely realized that I had known mad, sad, bad Vincent Van Gogh, and it was really too bad that he couldn't have painted this.
The footmen were perhaps a hundred feet behind us, and we turned
and headed toward the arches. Deirdre had already passed through them.
We ran and we made it. There were many swords at our sides, and the footmen turned back. Then we sheathed our blades, and Random said, "I've had it," and we moved to join with the band of people who had stood to defend us.
Random was immediately ordered to surrender his blade, and he shrugged and handed it over. Then two men came and stood on either side of him and a third at his back, and we continued on down the stair.
I lost all sense of time in that watery place, but I feel that we walked for somewhere between a quarter of an hour and half an hour before we reached our destination.
The golden gates of Rebma stood before us. We passed through them. We entered the city.
Everything was to be seen through a green haze. There were buildings, all of them fragile and most of them high, grouped in patterns and standing in colors that entered my eyes and tore
through my mind, seeking after remembrance. They failed, the sole
result of their digging being the now familiar ache that accompanies the half recalled, the unrecalled. I had walked these streets before, however, that I knew, or ones very much like them.
Random had not said a single word since he had been taken into custody. Deirdre's only conversation had been to inquire after our sister Llewella. She had been informed that Liewella was in Rebma.
I examined our escort. They were men with green hair, purple hair, and black hair, and all of them had eyes of green, save for one fellow whose were of a hazel color. All wore only scaled trunks and cloaks, cross-braces on their breasts, and short swords depending from sea-shell belts. All were pretty much lacking in body hair.
None of them spoke to me, though some stared and some glared, I was